Labour MP Wes Streeting has defended his decision to participate in a MEND meeting in Parliament on Wednesday, despite the fact that four of his fellow MPs have pulled out citing “extremist views” related to the group.
MEND, or Muslim Engagement and Development, is due to hold a meeting in Parliament to mark the beginning of Islamophobia Awareness Month. But Anna Soubry, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, has cancelled her appearance, saying that MEND did not have “the best of reputations”.
Three other MPs scheduled to speak, Crispin Blunt, Sir Ed Davey and Joanna Cherry, issued a statement, saying: “It has become clear there is controversy over Mend’s record and claims of links between the organisation and extremist views.
“We are concerned that if this event goes ahead the controversy around the organisers will distract from the principal purpose, which is to unite all the communities we represent against Islamophobia.”
But Mr Streeting, MP for Ilford North, said he would attend together with Stephen Kinnock, who is due to host the meeting. Mr Streeting told the JN: “I am committed to this event because of the huge surge in prejudice against Muslims, both verbal and physical, in recent months”.
He said he was aware of the “serious concerns about comments alleged to have been made” by MEND staff, though he said some of the comments were disputed.
Mend’s director of engagement, Azad Ali, is reported to have written that the March attack on parliament, which killed five, was “not terrorism”.
Mr Streeting, who has previously taken part in a number of MEND events, including hustings before the General Election, said in his experience the organisation’s representatives had made explicit reference to their opposition to antisemitism and homophobia. “I think it is really important to have political engagement with as wide a breadth of society as possible,” the MP said, adding that he regretted the controversy around the meeting. He hoped that in the light of the controversy, MEND would “take the opportunity and the responsibility to restate its opposition to prejudice in all its forms”